mEducation Alliance members discuss the Global Declaration on Connectivity for Education

Webstory_2021 mEducation Symposium

On Monday, 27 September 2021, under the umbrella of the Futures of Education, UNESCO convened a session ‘Towards a Global Declaration on Connectivity for Education’ at the 2021 mEducation Alliance Symposium. The event provided an opportunity for the mEducation Alliance members to learn more about the Global Declaration on Connectivity for Education, a guiding framework that will help steer the digital transformation of education in ways that accelerate progress towards the commitments of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

The Declaration and its principles were introduced by Mark West (Project Officer, UNESCO), Saeed Al Ismaily (Programs Manager, Dubai Cares), Jacqueline Strecker (Connected Education Officer, UNHCR) and Leila Toplic (Head of Emerging Technologies Initiative, NetHope).

Providing an overview behind the rationale for the Declaration’s creation, Mark West underlined two interrelated challenges for connectivity in education: first, a lack of access to technology and devices; second, a lack capacity and skills among users to access connectivity in a useful and meaningful way. The Declaration addresses both challenges. Development of the Declaration was led by UNESCO in partnership with Dubai Cares and in consultation with an international Advisory Board that includes experts in educational technologies. The Declaration, to be endorsed at the RewirEd Summit in December 2021, will establish principles and action lines to ensure that powerful digital tools strengthen educational opportunities for all.

Saeed Al Ismaily outlined that the development of the Declaration is an example of multistakeholder partnership and cooperation. He further emphasized that financing connectivity is a key factor in achieving universal connectivity and better learning outcomes. Speaking about the operationalization of the Declaration, Mr Al Ismaily stated that the Declaration will provide a flexible framework for alignment between for different initiatives including the UN Secretary-General's Roadmap on Digital Cooperation, the recently launched Our Common Agenda, and Giga, among other initiatives.

Presenting the Declaration’s first principle ‘Centre the most marginalized’, Jacqueline Strecker noted that the current practices benefit privileged learners and educators first. She stressed that policies and approaches must be recalibrated towards more inclusive and sustainable approaches when they are first designed. This will help ensure that they benefit the most disadvantaged and marginalized learners, such as forcibly displaced people and persons with disabilities. Ms Strecker further urged to ensure that connected technology supplements, expands, and enriches high-quality, formal and in-person education, rather than replace it, which is especially important for disadvantaged students for whom schools often provide nutrition, protection, and other benefits beyond academic learning.

Discussing second principle “Expand investments in free and high-quality digital education content’, Mark West underlined the need for public free high-quality educational content in the online space and interactions that facilitate learning and development. He called on governments and other stakeholders to increase investments for development and maintenance of robust public options for public education on the internet. It was also noted that differentiated educational resources for diverse audiences are required to provide clear and meaningful entry points for teachers, learners and parents. Mr West further pointed to the need for data monitoring and qualitative as well as quantitative research and information to assess whether and how connectivity access is (or is not) productively used to improve teaching and learning.

Introducing the third principle ‘The digital transformation of education requires pedagogical transformation’, Leila Toplic stated that digital spaces can open new learning possibilities but need to make sure that this learning is grounded in new and effective pedagogies that expand student knowledge, trigger new thinking, nurture creativity, and foster responsible digital citizenship. Simply replicating classroom practices is insufficient and not especially effective. Responsible and productive use of technologies should also strengthen social and civic dimensions of learning, she emphasized. Finally, Ms Toplic highlighted the importance of protecting student and educator data, guided by a commitment to transparency and observant of ‘do no harm’ data policies.

Following the presentation, the mEducation Alliance members engaged in a discussion with the panellists around the Declaration’s principles. Many highlighted the importance of ensuring sustainable and predictable financing of universal connectivity for education through domestic funding and forging strong partnerships around free and high-quality digital education content. It was also noted that development of high-quality digital learning content would increase demand for connectivity and provide incentives for more families and individual learners to come online and develop digital skills.

 

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UNESCO Headquarters

7 Place de Fontenoy
75007 Paris, France

Division of the Future of Learning and Innovation

futuresofeducation@unesco.org

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